Book Breakdown: Dungeon Hacks, Final Draft

Posted by David on June 15, 2015


Welcome to another edition of Book Breakdown. My goal with these articles is to demonstrate how books change from first draft to final draft. Today's topic: Dungeon Hacks, my upcoming book that chronicles the making of classic roguelike games such as Rogue and Moria. 

Last fall, I put the first draft of Dungeon Hacks (cleverly written as "Dungeon H@cks" on the cover) under the microscope. Make sure to read that article first so you can get a better understanding of how the manuscript changed. 

This Book Breakdown will focuses on the final draft of DH rather than the second draft. I chose to jump from first to final because there are so many edits and revisions made to interim drafts that I would need 6+ articles to go through them all. 

Release Date 

Before I go any further, I'd like to share some exciting news. DUNGEON HACKS was set to be published in paperback and popular e-reading platforms on June 29th of this year, but has been delayed. Don't worry! That's okay. More than okay: around the end of May, reached out to me and expressed interest in producing an audio version of STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN. 

As we hashed out details and signed contracts, I mentioned that I had another book, DUNGEON HACKS, ready to be published. They snatched up the audio rights to that book as well. As talks progressed, Ryan, the co-founder over there, mentioned that it might be a good idea to launch all editions of the book simultaneously: eBook, print, and audio. There was no way we would be able to cast a narrator in roughly 30 days, so DUNGEON HACKS has been pushed back to late July/early August. has put the book on the fast track so we can launch as soon as possible. 

I'm chomping at the bit to release DH, but I know that a simultaneous launch will be a lot more beneficial than staggering editions over the summer. By putting out all editions of the book on the same day, they'll be able to feed off of each other, which should result in a nice boost to sales all around. 

Table of Contents 

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: the breakdown, and not of the mental variety. Let's start with the set-in-stone table of contents and then go through each chapter one by one. 

  • About This Book
  • Introduction: Rodney and Friends
  • Chapter 1: The BAM-like - Exploring Beneath Apple Manor
  • Chapter 2: Procedural Dungeons of Doom - Building Rogue, Part 1
  • Chapter 3: Rodney and the Free Market - Building Rogue, Part 2
  • Chapter 4: There and Back Again - Retrieving the Sword of Fargoal
  • Chapter 5: When the Inmates Run the Asylum - Hack-ing at Lincoln-Sudbury High School
  • Chapter 6: It Takes a Village - Raising NetHack
  • Chapter 7: None Shall Pass - Braving the Mines of Moria
  • Chapter 8: Neapolitan Roguelike - The Many Flavors of Angband
  • Chapter 9: Wish You Were Here! - Questing for Postcards in Ancient Domains of Mystery
  • Chapter 10: The Future of Play
  • Rogue's Gallery
  • Side Quests
    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • Chapter 3
    • Chapter 4
    • Chapter 6
    • Chapter 7
    • Chapter 8
    • Chapter 9
  • Bonus Round: Excerpt from The One-Week Dungeon: Diary of a Seven-Day Roguelike Challenge
    • Day Zero: Bold Ambitions
    • Day One: Programming Benders
    • Day Two: Workday Blues
    • Day Three: Pressures
    • Day Four: Halfway
    • Day Five: Bugs
    • Day Six: Tough Calls
    • Day Seven: Verdicts
  • Bonus Round: Work and @Play - An Interview with John Harris
  • Bonus Round: Reading, Writing, and Computer Programming - An Interview with Brian Harvey
  • Bonus Round: Excerpt from Angels, Devils, and Boomsticks: The Making of Demons with Shotguns
  • Notes and Citations
  • About the Author
  • About Digital Monument Press, LLC
  • About Episodic Content

 Overview of Content 

Cover Art 

Before we dig into the meat of the content, do feel free to judge this book by its beautiful artwork. The cover was painted by Milan Jaram (@milanjaram), who will be working with me on most of my covers going forward. We met on, a video-game site where we both frequent the forums and hang out with the community. I noticed his art last summer and eyed him as the perfect artist to paint covers for Episodic Content, my monthly e-zine where I publish serialized stories about the making of video games. (Think STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN and DUNGEON HACKS, but on a smaller scale.) 

We've since expanded our collaboration to include DM Press covers if and when Amie isn't up to painting them. I couldn't be more pleased. Milan is a fantastic artist, and I count myself lucky to have him in my corner. Check out his work on his website, and follow him on Twitter

Like the book itself, DUNGEON HACKS's cover has undergone a couple of revisions. Classic roguelikes feature text-based graphics rather than sprites or polygons, but the level of immersion and detail in the gameplay draw you so deeply into the story that you have no trouble imagining that the letter "D" you see standing before your little "@" avatar is the massive, fiery dragon the letter represents. 

I envisioned a cover that I thought would capture that sense of creativity. I wanted half the cover to be painted in ASCII art (individual text characters pieced together to form pictures), which would then bleed into a proper painting. The idea was to show that as players become more immersed in the game, their imagination fills in the blanks, transforming rudimentary text-based graphics into epic, full-color scenes more fantastic than anything a mere video card could conjure up. 

Ultimately, Milan and I decided to jump straight to the "epic, full color scene," which I think turned out beautifully. It captures a similar element of roguelike gameplay. In most roguelikes, you enter a level only able to see the area adjacent to your character. The rest of the screen is shrouded in blackness. You're not sure what's out there, lying in wait. 

Promotional Materials 

DUNGEON HACKS will be the second book published through DM Press, the publishing company Amie and I cofounded for my books about the stories of how games are made and the people who make them. STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN (SAAL) garnered rave critical reviews (he says humbly), so I decided it was time to toot our horn a little. 

Above the "About This Book" section on the Table of Contents are promotional sections designed to interest readers in our growing catalog. First up is a "praise page," a collection of snippets from glowing reviews. These snippets come from SAAL's Fall 2013 release, as well as from Episodic Content

Next up is a "books by" page, and I'm pleased to say the list is filling out nicely. Again, the goal here is to generate interest in other books so that readers who enjoy DUNGEON HACKS will immediately go online to see what else I've written. "Books by" pages bookend DH: at the bottom, below the "About the Author" page, is another listing for my published works, just in case readers skip the advertisement at the beginning. 

About This Book 

The Table of Contents officially begins with this section. Like SAAL, DH features extra content arranged in Side Quest and Bonus Round sections. As you read, you'll be able to tap [SQ] markers to read extra content related to the passage you just read in the main book. Bonus Rounds can be read at any time, but are most easily understood after you finish the main book. 

Which brings me to a piece of exciting news: DUNGEON HACKS will be our first book available in paperback. I'm not sure yet how Side Quest will be arranged in the paperback editions. Jumping back and forth between sections isn't as convenient in a printed book as it is in an electronic book; eBooks do the jumping for you, while printed books require you to keep your place as you reference other pages. Not fun. 

I'll probably end up sticking each chapter's Side Quest content at the end of the chapter, with a note that says, in effect, "Jump ahead to page X if you don't care about this extra stuff." I don't want to disrupt anyone's reading process. Side Quests should be optional, and should not impede your progress through the main story.


This was originally an author's note that provided a succinct overview of how I selected roguelikes to write about in DUNGEON HACKS. A couple of months ago, I asked Blizzard North cofounder and Diablo co-creator David Brevik to write a foreword for the book. I planned for his foreword to give a summary of what roguelikes are and how they've influenced the gaming industry -- not necessary for roguelike fans, but vital for readers looking for a book about video games and unfamiliar with the flora and fauna of these classic titles. 

This past week, Brevik had to drop out. His calendar is jam-packed with other commitments. There was no hard feelings; I knew from the beginning he might be too busy to write the foreword. So I added a couple of paragraphs to the top of the author's note to summarize the gene's high-level points for roguelike neophytes, and re-labeled the section "Introduction." Many readers skip author notes, but introductions are like prologues: a part of the story. 

Even now, the introduction isn't vital to understanding the book, but I wanted to attempt to brief readers before they dived in. 


The structure of the main chapters of the book remains largely the same, with two major exceptions, which I'll discuss shortly. As with the first draft, each chapter focuses on one game and the person or people who made it. You can read the chapters out of order; maybe you're more interested in Moria and Angband than you are Hack and NetHack. But reading the book chronologically allows you to follow how the genre evolved from game to game. 

DUNGEON HACKS is a story first and foremost. Like with STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN and all my works related to how games are made, I oscillate between people, culture, and game design. You can't grasp how a game was made until you appreciate the personalities who made it. 

7DRL and Chapter 10 

And now, the major changes. For one week in March 2013, I followed eight teams of developers participating in the seven-day roguelike (7DRL) challenge. The objective is to write a roguelike game from scratch in seven days. I thought it would be interesting to interview these individuals for 10-15 minutes each day and go over what they had accomplished, what was giving them trouble, and create a log of their individual journeys for inclusion in DUNGEON HACKS. This log was going to comprise Chapter 10, which I noted in the Book Breakdown for draft 1

That log ended up running more than 100 pages in length, far more than just another chapter in the book. The tone was also quite different; I wrote the diary from my perspective and used literary devices more at home in a novel than a nonfiction book, even one written in a creative voice. 

So my ace editor, Andrew Magrath, and I decided to spin the 7DRL diary off into its own book, titled THE ONE-WEEK DUNGEON. TOWD will launch day and date alongside DUNGEON HACKS -- which, conveniently, offers a sneak peek from the diary: a complete, week-long entry that follows one of the challengers from start to finish. It's another easy way to advertise that I have other stuff available for purchase. 

The second of the two major changes takes the form of Chapter 10, an epilogue of sorts. When he finished reading DUNGEON HACKS, Andrew suggested I add a chapter explaining why these old games are still relevant, and how components of their DNA--such as permanent death and procedural-content generation--have come to influence contemporary games. 

At first, I hemmed and hawed. It's just what I do when I know a piece of writing is a necessary but I don't feel like sitting down at the computer and writing more words when I thought a project was finished. But, deep down, I know it's a good idea, so I do it. Eventually. After much hemming and hawing. And it usually turns out fine. More than fine, in Chapter 10's case. I enjoyed writing it, and think it caps off the main book (meaning: outside of Side Quests and Bonus Rounds) nicely. 


Numbers! Numbers everywhere! This section should give you (and me) a high-level view of how chapters have changed from draft 1 to the final draft by examining page and word counts. 

Note that I do not count Side Quests and Bonus Rounds in this round-up. That content is optional, and not part of the main book. 

  • Chapter 1
    • Draft 1: 2637 (10 pages)
    • Final: 2848 (8 pages)
  • Chapter 2
    • Draft 1: 4113 (15 pages)
    • Final: 4422 (11 pages)
  • Chapter 3
    • Draft 1: 5245 (17 pages)
    • Final: 5031 (14 pages)
  • Chapter 4
    • Draft 1: 4302 (14 pages)
    • Final: 3525 (11 pages)
  • Chapter 5
    • Draft 1: 3656 (12 pages)
    • Final: 3873 (10 pages)
  • Chapter 6
    • Draft 1: 5038 (17 pages)
    • Final: 5100 (14 pages)
  • Chapter 7
    • Draft 1: 6174 (19 pages)
    • Final: 5409 (14 pages)
  • Chapter 8
    • Draft 1: 6875 (22 pages)
    • Final: 5405 (14 pages)
  • Chapter 9
    • Draft 1: 6134 (20 pages)
    • Final: 5695 (15 pages)
  • Chapter 10
    • Draft 1: N/A
    • Final: 3502 (9 pages)
  • Total
    • Draft 1: 44174 (146 pages)
    • Final: 44810 (120 pages)



As you can see, we ended up with fewer pages in the final draft, but more words.

What?! How'd that happen? Elementary, my dear Watsons.

Although some chapters ended up with higher word counts in the final draft than in the first (such as Chapter 1), all chapters were pruned significantly. Needless words were cut from some sections, while words that better illustrated key concepts or "character" (developer) motivations were added in others. Ultimately, our story flows better from section to section.

I'll give you an example. Chapters 2 and 3, both of which chronicle the making of Rogue, took their time introducing Michael Toy and Ken Arnold. But not must attention was given to Glenn Wichman. Why? Because it came to my attention that Michael, Ken, and I had talked more about their backgrounds in our interviews than Glenn and I had discussed his in our interviews.

I doubled back and added a couple extra paragraphs about Glenn's background in order to help readers understand how he was able to contribute to Rogue. Specifically, Glenn had been designing card and board games since he was a tyke; even though Michael and Ken had more programming experience by the times their paths crossed, Glenn arguably had a better eye for design. Adding this information was important because, without it, Glenn's involvement in Rogue seemed incidental, and it was anything but.

This process worked in favor of my writing style. I like to highlight action--that is, I may take my time introducing you to names and events, but every page, paragraph, and line should advance the story. When you write a first draft, your objective is to put words on paper. That's it. Don't worry about going back and tidying up; just let the words pile up.

When revisions begin, you must cut, cut, and cut some more. Trim any words that do nothing to advance your story, fiction or otherwise. And yet, it is perfectly fine--even necessary--to add words, so long as they hold value. By the time you lock down your piece of writing, the words that move the story along should be the last words standing.


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